Prettily set between cliffs and a river estuary, the 15,000-strong town of WHAKATANE, 65km east of Te Puke, sprawls across flat farmland around the last convulsions of the Whakatane River. It has had a turbulent history but is now a relatively tranquil service town with a couple of cultural attractions, and walks along the spine of hills above the town and to the viewpoint at Kohi Point.

It also makes a great jumping-off point for sunbathing at Ohope Beach, swimming with dolphins, visits to the bird sanctuary of Whale Island and cruises to volcanic White Island, which billows plumes of steam into the sky.

Brief history

The area has had more than its fair share of dramatic events. The Maori word Whakatane (“to act as a man”) originated when the women of the Mataatua canoe were left aboard while the men went ashore; the canoe began to drift out to sea, but touching the paddles was tapu for women. Undeterred, Wairaka, the teenage daughter of a chief, led the women in paddling back to shore, shouting Ka Whakatane Au i Ah au (“I will deport myself as a man”); a statue at Whakatane Heads commemorates her heroic act.

Apart from a brief sortie by Cook, the first Europeans were flax traders in the early 1800s. In March 1865, missionary Carl Völkner was killed at Opotiki and a government agent, James Falloon, arrived to investigate. Supporters of a fanatical Maori sect, the Hau Hau, attacked Falloon’s vessel, killing him and his crew. In response, the government declared martial law, and by the end of the year a large part of the Bay of Plenty had been confiscated and Whakatane was a military settlement. Te Kooti chose Whakatane as his target for a full-scale attack in 1869 before being driven back into the hills of Urewera.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

New Zealand features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Everything you need to know about backpacking New Zealand

Everything you need to know about backpacking New Zealand

New Zealand’s craggy coastline and beautiful national parks beg to be explored. The scenery gets more spectacular around every corner, with beaches, vineyards…

21 Nov 2017 • Rachel Mills insert_drive_file Article
The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook